In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, the Journal asked various folks with local ties to reflect on a K-12 teacher who made an impact on their lives.
Carlos Bocanegra is a local musician and owner of Monstercade, a club on Acadia Avenue that bills itself as the “Strangest Bar in North Carolina.”
Bocanegra spent most of his formative years in Winston-Salem but also lived for a while in Peru. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Bocanegra said there were very few Hispanics (and hardly any Peruvians) in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, making it difficult for him to fit in.
Janie Livengood, his 7th grade social studies teacher at what was then Ashley Middle School, recognized that he needed extra attention at a sensitive time in his life.
“One day, she started talking about Black and white history, and so something clicked inside me, and I raised my hand and said, ‘What about me?’ She stopped teaching and I could tell something clicked with her, and she started paying me a lot more attention. She started sending me to these special field trips with at-risk kids, and I heard from the principal that Mrs. Livengood said that I needed to go. And I remember being angry being placed with kids who were serious delinquents, like ‘Why am I being singled out?’
People are also reading…
“She was on me all the time, and I didn’t understand why. My grades weren’t bad. What did I do? But the thing is, is that anger turned into determination for me. Something clicked with me. I am different and there was this determination not to fall into obscurity. I know my brown skin makes me different, and she recognized that and put special attention on me so that I can try to find out what I can be in life, the positive in being different and that you can do better than what you think you can.
“I do know that she believed in me. As soon as I hit high school, I was my own person. I had confidence, and she was the person who planted that seed that it’s OK not to fit in.”
Jennifer Solis is a Spanish teacher at Hanes Middle School and the 2021 Teacher of the Year in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools. Raised in the small town of Somerset, Pennsylvania, Solis was a hardworking student whose academic talent was nurtured by orchestra teacher, Melinda Forry, who taught her from grades 7-12 at Somerset Junior and Senior High School.
“The impact she had on me did not end in the classroom. I played violin up to 10th grade and Ms. Forry saw I put so much work in it to be excellent on the instrument. But when you are a violinist, you have a lot of competition, and most of the kids I was up against (for first chair) had tons of private lessons. Ms. Forry asked me, ‘Would you like to play viola?’ She wanted me to go to districts and tri-county. Well, if you know anything about stringed instruments, the viola is the only one played in the C-clef, so I had a whole new key signature to learn. My mom was like, ‘I can’t afford private lessons.’
“Ms. Forry had me come clean her house on weekends, just finding things for me to do, in exchange for private lessons. She went out to an auction and bought a viola for the school that she said I could use. So I used that viola, and I got to tri-county, and I made it to district and came one chair from going to the state, within two months of learning the instrument. I will always remember that kindness.
“She was always looking out for you. She was like a guardian angel.”
Chris Stamey is a musician and producer best known for his work with the dB’s, a trailblazing indie pop band that included fellow Winston-Salem residents Peter Holsapple, Gene Holder and Will Rigby. Stamey published his memoir, “A Spy in the House of Loud,” in 2018.
Bob Smith, a music teacher at Reynolds High School, was an early mentor.
“Bob Smith taught a real music theory course at Reynolds in the 70s. And changed my life. He wasn’t sugarcoating it, either. It was Bach, Gershwin. And very pragmatic. I remember asking him, ‘How do you modulate?’ and he said, simply, ‘Find a way to get to the V7 of the new key.’ Aha! Brilliant. A door opened.
“He was so clear, and so deep. I don’t think I encountered anything new in music theory at UNC later for the first two years there. He opened up a new world for me, and I’m forever grateful. There was only one time when I had to correct him. Coming from a jazz background, he thought song credits always listed the music guy first, lyricist second, so he felt sure that Lennon had written all the music for the Beatles, with McCartney supplying just the words.”
Rebecca Alexander, a longtime professor of chemistry at Wake Forest University, grew up in the small town of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Though she was already excelling in science by the time she took Jane Person’s advanced placement biology class at East Stroudsburg High School, Alexander credited Person with pushing her academically and serving as a role model for what a woman could accomplish in science.
Person, as Alexander recalled, was the only woman in the high school’s science department. The two women still keep in touch through social media.
“Because she taught both advanced students and basic biology and environmental science, I would say that she instilled in me, way before we used words like ‘inclusive,’ to make sure everybody was educated, independent of their abilities or future path, and that we need well-informed citizen voters educated in science.
“She enjoyed challenging us and talking about her farm. At the end of our senior year, she invited some of the seniors over for dinner. She embodied the whole person as a teacher. She gave us glimpses into her personal life as well as communicating knowledge.
“I would say that she and her husband (Dick Person, a chemistry teacher at the same high school), encouraged us all to pursue our dreams to the best of our ability. I felt that support. I knew once I became a teacher, she was happy for me and proud of me.”
Annette Scippio represents the East Ward on the Winston-Salem City Council. Born and raised in Winston-Salem, Scippio has worked in research in several corporations and has a long history of community service.
She said with a laugh that she had too many impactful teachers to name, but she narrowed her choice to Flonnie Anderson, a legendary teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools who taught English and drama at several local schools. Scippio had her for English at Anderson High School, which served the city’s Black community.
“She was a Renaissance kind of woman. She didn’t do anything traditionally. It was always with a flair. We would come into her room and you were transformed into a different environment. There was always something amazing for us every day. And it was like, ‘You can do things that way?’ She was teaching us to be creative, to not be mediocre. Add some color, add some pizzazz to anything you do. I didn’t grow up in that kind of atmosphere. My guardian was the school secretary. Everything was very regimented. But Ms. Anderson brought color and flavor, and I took that with me.
“I found even in college if you stepped out, maybe not outside the boundaries, but you can go to the edge of things and do something different and not get in trouble, and the more color and flavor you brought to situations was more exciting for other people. She unleashed all of our possibilities.